There was a quote I saw on Twitter before watching Dope that caught my attention: “Dope is the movie of what white people perceive of the black experience.”
It was something that was in the back of my mind as I started the film, but it was dismissed during a scene near the beginning of movie when Malcolm (Shameik Moore) sat in the office of Mr. Bailey (Bruce Beatty) who discusses an essay he was preparing to send into Harvard as part of his application. Malcolm decided to write an analysis of Ice Cube while Mr. Bailey felt like he should tell the tale of the a young black man growing up in Inglewood, California.
Malcolm disagreed stating that why would Harvard want yet another story of a black kid coming from “the bottoms” when he could challenge the rest of the applicants with an academic essay of a subject that cared deeply for: 90s hip-hop and rap. Mr. Bailey instead found him to be smug and sent him out.
This is how I kind of view Dope in regards to that quote made. I don’t think that this is a white-washed version of the black experience, but rather it is a story of another type of experience because maybe we have seen that other version so many times. There are other stories to tell within that culture and it shouldn’t be held to just one version.
Dope dives headfirst into this other version with a story that felt akin to the classic films of John Hughes, but created for a new generation and culture that didn’t haven’t had their story told in this format just yet. It follows Malcolm, who is a 90s hip-hop geek living in Inglewood with dreams of Harvard. He is joined by his friend, Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori), who share the same passions as Malcolm.
Their life of avoiding the troubles of their neighborhood are thrown for a loop when they attend the party of a local drug dealer who slips his product into Malcolm’s backpack during a drug bust. Afterwards, he gets a call from an unknown person who asks him to bring him the product in order to take care of it for the drug dealer, Dom (A$AP Rocky).
But Dom calls Malcolm right before the transaction and fills him in on the possible snitch that he is about to meet. This puts Malcolm inside the world that he has long avoided and puts a target on his back.
Writer/director Rick Famuyiwa is able to create an ambiance for the film with a pulsating soundtrack filled with the tracks that Malcolm and his buddies would most likely be listening to on their iPods and is able to use this to keep propelling the intensity of the story like a train. Like a John Hughes movie, he puts these young characters into a situation that seems a little absurd for a normal day, but is able to also use it as a vehicle for learning lessons about life, sometimes the hard way.
Famuyiwa creates a set of characters that you may see in the next John Green novel (Malcolm is an awkward hig schooler who is crushing hard on a girl also), but what also knows is that these characters are apart of a world that is wholly different from a character in The Fault in Our Stars or the upcoming Paper Towns and that’s because their neighborhood doesn’t follow along with them and this point is made clear as Malcolm comes in contact with the people around him — they don’t have their eyes on Harvard because they have business in the streets.
Dope is an example that no matter who you are and where you live, there is still some relatable qualities between the character in the latest young adult novel being put on the big screen and Malcolm from Inglewood. He isn’t that much different from the other people in his respective genre and Famuyiwa is able to understand that and capture a similar story in a different environment — and very successfully.